On 7 May 2018, Toyota registered the LQ trademark in the United States, under Serial Number 87909977, for “automobiles and structural parts thereof”. But what is its significance or likely use? The fact that it’s two letters makes it, most likely, earmarked for Lexus, Toyota’s luxury marque. As such, it would designate the brand’s 13th current model line, and the 16th in its almost 30-year history.
L=Lexus’ fourth flagship line
As Lexus’ model line has grown and evolved, a pattern has emerged where a first letter “L” in the 2-letter prefix designates top-of-the-line, or flagship status. At present, a trio of lines occupy this hallowed status: the full-size (F-segment) LS (Luxury Sedan), the grand touring LC (Luxury Coupe) and the full-size luxury SUV LX (Luxury Crossover or Luxury Four Wheel Drive). An LQ would conceivably join their ranks as a fourth flagship line.
Indeed, the first public hints into this line of thinking came on 10 December 2017, when Toyota announced its plans for the 2018 Detroit Auto Show at the Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit. In video of the event, at the 6:55 mark, Toyota North America’s Executive Vice President of Sales (and Toyota USA President of Sales) Bob Carter notes that
“Today, we have a flagship coupe, the LC. We just saw outside our flagship sedan, the LS, and today we have a flagship SUV, which is the LX. LX does extremely well for us, but it’s still a traditional SUV where it’s built on a body-on-frame manufacturing process. So, the concept that we’re going to reveal, we call it the LF-1 Limitless, and what it is it’s an execution, a concept of what if Lexus had a flagship CUV.
In the past, there have been rumblings that LX might evolve into, or be replaced by, a car-based crossover. Mr. Carter’s words suggest, however, that there’s room at Lexus’ flagship level for both a traditional body-on-frame SUV such as LX and a car-based crossover.
The obvious suspect: a production LF-1 Limitless
Just over a month after the above announcement, the LF-1 Limitless Concept was finally unveiled. In a show admittedly thin on compelling concept reveals, it vied with Infiniti’s Q Inspiration as the best concept car of the show. LF-1 was certainly a very realistic, near-production look at what a RWD-centric, GA-L platform Lexus crossover could look like. This was territory that Lexus concepts hadn’t explored in 15 years. And with Australia’s Financial Review suggesting that a production version of LF-1 Limitless could be unveiled as soon as October 2019 at the Tokyo Motor Show, perhaps it’s not too soon to get the LQ prefix ready and trademark-registered.
But what does the Q mean? And would James Bond be Audiaciously proud or Infinitily pissed?
The use of the letter Q on a Lexus model name is a mysterious enigma. The letter, in fact, is more commonly associated with several of Lexus’ luxury rivals.
Aston Martin’s long association with the James Bond movie franchise (which includes the character known primarily as “Q” – for Quartermaster, head of the fictional Q Branch division of the British Secret Service) has led to the carmaker’s own “Q by Aston Martin” personalization service for custom, bespoke and one-off vehicle modifications.
Further, the use of the letter Q in automotive model names led to a legendary 3-way tussle between Nissan’s Infiniti luxury brand, Volkswagen’s Audi division and Fiat Chrysler’s Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands. As I noted in a September 2014 Kaizen Factor story:
In 1994, during Johan de Nysschen’s second year as general manager of Audi’s operations in his native South Africa, the carmaker introduced a new model naming system brilliant in its simplicity: the letter A (for Audi) followed by a single-digit number denoting a given model’s size and position in the overall hierarchy of vehicle offerings…and alternate letter prefixes (included) Q (Quattro, for crossover/SUV models)…
…In July 2012, (de Nysschen) stunned the automotive world by jumping ship to Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury car brand, as president of its global operations. Clearly enamored of Audi’s model naming conventions, he instituted a very similar system at Infiniti, with a Q prefix for cars and QX to denote crossover and SUV models, followed by a 2-digit “tens” number…
…That shared used of the Q prefix by Audi and Infiniti…led Infiniti’s parent Nissan (which launched its flagship Q45 sedan in late 1989) to sue Audi on 22 March 2005 for trademark infringement over its planned 2006 thru 2009 launch of Q7 and Q5 crossover SUVs. In late November of 2005, however, word came that the two carmakers had reached a confidential settlement agreement that allowed Audi to keep the Q3, Q5 and Q7 model names, while Infiniti continued with all manner of 2-digit numbers to follow the letter Q.
For the longest time, however, Audi did not have access to Q2 and Q4 trademarks. Why? Because they were earlier claimed by Fiat’s Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands as designators for 2WD and 4WD versions of several models. Then-VW Group head Ferdinand Piëch reportedly offered Fiat counterpart Sergio Marchionne big money to allow Audi use of the trademarks, but Marchionne’s intense personal dislike of Herr Piëch led him to turn down the German’s entreaties. Finally, in January 2016, matters were settled when Fiat allowed Audi use of the Q2 and Q4 trademarks in exchange for a couple of undisclosed VW Group trademarks Fiat wanted.
But what does the Q mean in Lexus terms? Historically, the second letter of Lexus model name prefixes have designated body styles, and have been S (for sedan, or saloon), C (for coupe, or convertible coupe), T (for touring [5-door hatchback]) and X (for crossover or SUV).
There is no clear-cut obvious answer as to what the Q could stand for. Qoupe, as an oddball spelling for a 5-door coupe? Or Quint or Quintet for its number of doors (or a Honda model from the early 1980s)? Or Quantum, for its quantum leap over the competition? (I’m old enough to think of it as the 2nd-gen Volkswagen Passat’s North American name, instead). Or an Audiesque Quad or Quattro for an all-wheel-drive crossover? Yes, I’m grasping at straws here, and I’m dying to know what backronymic explanation Lexus comes up with to justify what LQ stands for.
For what it’s worth, in late 2017 members of the Lexus Enthusiast forums (including yours truly) suggested LA (Luxury All-Purpose Vehicle), LM (Luxury Multipurpose) and LT (Luxury Touring) as prefixes for the production LF-1 Limitless. Forget all that, though. LQ it seemingly is.
But what if this has nothing to do with LF-1 Limitless?
There is, of course, the remote possibility that LQ is not the production version of the LF-1 Limitless Concept. What, then? The Lexus-branded minivan or MPV Asian dealers have been clamoring for? A stretched 5th-generation LS morphed into a Mercedes-Maybach rival? An export Lexus-badged version of the 3rd-generation Toyota Century? A dedicated battery-electric or fuel cell-powered Lexus model? Or, simply, the next Lexus concept car? All possible, of course, but all improbable to varying degrees. We’ll stick to our guns and suggest that LQ will be the production version of the LF-1 Limitless Concept.
Unlike the UX trademarks filed just over 2 years ago, LQ has been filed by itself, without one or more 3-digit numbers appended to hint at LQ’s engine size (or its arbitrary equivalence) nor whether or not it’ll have hybrid variants.
Not helping matters is the way that Toyota and Lexus engines are now in flux as current engine families gradually transition to new Dynamic Force successors. Current “flagship L” Lexus models are powered by a hodgepodge of older GR V6s, UR V8s and a single new-generation V35A 3.5-liter twin turbo V6 engine, with the expected new Dynamic Force V8 still waiting in the wings.
Could LQ ultimately wind up in the trademark graveyard?
As we have done so often in the past, we remind you that the registration of a trademark is no guarantee of its eventual, actual use. And Lexus’ crossover-centric prefixes are particularly vulnerable. We have seen VX, JX and TX allowed to lapse and die unused. Might LQ, perhaps, see the same fate?